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Four Flies on Grey Velvet is Dario Argento's rarest genre film. It
completes the Animal Trilogy and is the movie that preceded the
magnificent Deep Red. Having never been officially available on video
or DVD, Four Flies remains a bit of an enigma. It's fair to say that it
is not an entirely successful movie it has serious flaws in story and
acting however, it showcases early stylistic experimentation by
Argento. And, as such, is an important entry of giallo cinema.
The story involves a rock drummer who accidentally kills a man and is drawn into a web of murder by a masked assassin who appears to have a vendetta against him.
The opening credit sequence is a memorable affair, incorporating pounding drums and close ups of a beating heart. This title sequence, however, is a good indicator of the inconsistencies of the film we are about to see, as included within this impressive opening is a silly section involving a fly that irritates rock drummer Brandon. The inclusion of this nonsense is an early example of one of the films major weaknesses the comedy. It is never funny. We have a completely unfunny postman, a guru fisherman God who says absolutely nothing of interest at any point and a man with a moustache who tells a succession of abysmally unfunny stories to an audience of giggling women. Argento has never had flair for comedy, it's just not his arena and this film shows why. Imagine how bad a giallo directed by Woody Allen would be, well that's how bad comedy directed by Argento is.
But onwards and upwards. Thankfully he handles the suspense scenes very well indeed. We have the bizarre opening murder in the theatre witnessed by a highly creepy masked figure. A scary scene involving a girl hiding in a cupboard while the killer stalks outside. A sleazy episode in the underground. And, best of all, an excellent set-piece where a woman suddenly realises that she is alone in a menacing empty park that was previously filled with children and haunting carousel music playing over the tannoy. Four Flies is predominantly an exercise in suspense as all of these well handled sequences testify. The violence is restrained even for giallos of the period. Argento more than makes up for this with stylistic flourishes like the nice camera pan of the phone wires leading to the location of the killer, the shots of Michael Brandon driving his car quickly edited together with his subsequent POV approach to the private investigator's office and the deranged asylum flashback scenes. The movie is well shot with a number of inventive jump edits and unusual angles, giving a taste of Argento's films to come.
However, all of these excellent elements are strung together by a somewhat ridiculous plot. There are certainly holes here, for example, how could the newspapers report finding the body of the dead man if he's not actually dead?! And as for the 'four flies' revelation near the end, well I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the movie but it really is quite ridiculous. And the killer's motivations are, to say the least, uneven. The acting, too, is not helpful. Sadly, Michael Brandon resembles a plank of wood for the majority of his screen-time. His acting range stretches from 'a bit bored' to 'quite annoyed'. He certainly doesn't help draw the viewer in. And where Brandon under-acts, Mimsy Farmer over-acts. It makes for quite unusual viewing when they are on screen together. There is a lack of chemistry here for sure. In general, the exposition scenes are a bit clunky throughout the movie. And we even have a bit of unintentional humour in the exchanges between Brandon and the homosexual private investigator. If you turned the movie on at this point you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching Carry On Giallo.
The music is variable. This was the first movie where Argento incorporated rock music. From here on he would use it extensively. Similar to the rock music provided by future collaborators Goblin, the rock music here is strange, except here it is not strange in a good way. The vocalist sounds like a deaf man trying to copy Robert Plant. It's grim. And it's by Ennio Morricone so it's a bit of a shock but fortunately he also provides some good avant-garde jazzy compositions too. Much better.
Overall, despite its short-falls, Four Flies on Grey Velvet is too interesting a giallo movie to be disregarded. It is a key experimental work in Argento's cannon. It may be flimsy of plot and misguided of humour but, as is the way with giallo cinema, these elements have to be weighed against the more sensory aspects the visuals, the music, the atmosphere. And happily, there is more than enough good to outweigh the bad.
"Four Flies On Grey Velvet" is surely an odd, truly bizarre film, even by
Dario Argento standards. In my opinion however, it most definitely is not a
bad film, much less one of Argento's worst. Much of what is said about the
film, by critics and fans alike, seems (to me) to wrongly condemn it. I
definitely can understand why one might be frustrated by this film, but I
don't believe that's a reason to reject it completely. Some may feel the
acting and/or story isn't all that good. I would respectfully disagree. I
feel the acting is strange and aloof, but I believe that it works in favor
of the film; and the story is confusing, but that is typical for an Argento
film, and as a viewer, I appreciate not being handed all of the answers on a
platter. Perhaps what repels many viewers is consistently being displaced
espacially within the film context; that is to say one (the viewer and/or
characters) doesn't necessarily always know where one is within the
"reality" of the film or how one got there. Here, in what is perhaps
Argento's most abstract film to date, the director makes some very bold,
disarming choices with editing; choices I believe serve a greater purpose
and add chillingly to the effectiveness of the film. For instance, the
sequence in which the protagonist (Michael Brandon) is driving to the office
of a private investigator. Shots of him driving in his car to the office are
quickly intercut with gliding POV shots approaching the office building,
going up the stairs, nearing the office door. The effect is that of feeling
as if he is literally driving up the stairs and down the hallway to the
office door, creating a tense and strangely humorous sequence of events.
This editing technique, prevalent throughout the film, is surely a forceful
presence and I suppose could turn off some viewers. Regardless of the
editing, the atmosphere and visual punch of the film is pure Argento, albeit
an Argento who was still developing his technique and discovering his style.
There are many beautiful and stunning visuals to be appreciated, including
the violent, shocking ending sequence and a very creepy chase scene in an
otherworldly city park. My favorite visual flourish in this film is the
reoccuring nightmare had by the protagonist, in which a Middle Eastern
execution is taking place in a bleached out desert dreamscape; thoroughly
chilling. A frantic, highly enjoyable score from the master Ennio Morricone
adds greatly to the proceedings as well. I really like this film, despite
whatever flaws it may have, and have but one question for anyone who thinks
"Four Flies On Grey Velvet" is (one of) Argento's worst... "Have you seen
"The Five Days Of Milan" or his "Phantom of The Opera"?
Definitely not for everyone's tastes, but a certain must for any Argento fan, Euro-horror fan, or anyone who just really wants to be daring and see something totally different.
As with the previous two entries in the unofficial Animal Trilogy, Four
Flies on Grey Velvet is short on explicit gore but brimming with
atmosphere and artistic ingenuity, with set-piece murders primed and
mined for maximum tension. It was with this film that Argento began to
cement his particular style and is something of a crucible for future
ideas. The murder of Roberto's maid in a local park foreshadows John
Saxon's fate in Tenebre, and with its sudden lapses in time and
attempted escape through the cobwebbed space between two buildings (to
a soundtrack of whispers and sighs) it also sows seeds that would
flourish in Suspiria. Other visual motifs (crimson curtains, extreme
close-ups, inanimate objects suddenly wielded by a seemingly maniacal
camera) would be repeated or re-jigged in Deep Red, Phenomena and
Argento's original intention was to have a gay protagonist and though the character of Roberto is still open to such a reading - his victimisation being as a result of a fear of being outed (as a murderer) has obvious correlations (note also Brandon's shaggy mane v Farmer's gamine crop or the rather tame bathtub scene with Francine Racette which sees Roberto playfully seducing his mirror image) - the more overt references are passed to Jean-Pierre Marielle, who brings immense likability to a small role and whose swish factor is tempered by a steely determination to finally cracking a case. A frosty Farmer acquits herself well, though Brandon is merely okay. Argento's fascination with weird science (here ludicrous by design but ingenious in execution) gives the film its animal-themed title, and the finale boasts one of his greatest sequences - a stunning, slow-motion shot of a car impacting with the back of a lorry, which marries chillingly beautiful aesthetics to Hollywood folklore, scored with Morricone's haunting "Come un Madrigale".
Four Flies is a solid giallo and an important entry in the Director's canon which bears repeated viewing, blurring gender roles and sexual identity, adding subtext and hit and miss humour, asylum flashbacks, well-executed deaths and a recurring nightmare in the form of a sun-bleached, public beheading - the significance of which turns out to be twofold. It also has in spades what a good Argento giallo conveys like no other, that chilling feeling of something wholly alien on the loose in human form.
"4 mosche di velluto grigio" aka. "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" is the
last film in Dario Argento's animal trilogy, which also includes the
brilliant "Bird With The Crystal Plumage" (1970) and the very stylish
"Cat o' Nine Tails" (1971). This is certainly Argento's oddest film,
and also by far the least widely known of his Gialli. While certainly
not one of Argento's masterpieces, this strange, and highly interesting
flick is nonetheless more than worth tracking down, for a variety of
When rock drummer Roberto (Michael Brandon) wants to take a guy to task who has been following him for days, the guy threatens him with a knife, and in the subsequent scuffle, Roberto accidentally stabs the guy to death. The incident is photographed by a masked psychopath, who subsequently begins to stalk Roberto and people close to him... Sounds like the beginning of a typical Giallo, but, apart from the typical formula of a mystery killer, murders from the killer's perspective, etc., this film differs from Argento's other Gialli in a variety of aspects. This is partly a very comedic Giallo, that, in some parts even features absurd slapstick humor. Several characters are purely satirical, such as a (very) gay private eye, or a sarcastic writer who likes narrating bizarre short stories. Another supporting role is played by none other than the ass-kicking cult actor/comedian Bud Spencer! The superb score by maestro Ennio Morricone is one more reason to watch this film. Dario Argento is one of my all-time favorite directors, and while "For Flies On Grey Velvet" is certainly not one of his highlights, it is definitely a weird and highly recommendable film that my fellow Italian Horror fans should not miss!
The drummer of a rock and roll band Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon)
sees a man wearing sunglasses stalking him everywhere. He follows the
man to a derelict opera house and when he confronts the stranger, he
pulls a knife. However Roberto accidentally stabs him in self-defense
and the man falls from the stage to the floor. Out of the blue, a
spotlight is turned on and Roberto is photographed in the crime scene
by a masked person on a theater box. Roberto leaves the place and
returns home. On the next morning, he reads the newspaper the news
about a stranger called Carlo Marosi that was murdered. During the
night, Roberto and his wife Nina (Mimsy Farmer) welcome friends and
Roberto finds a photo of the previous night entwined with his vinyls.
He tells the truth to Nina and their maid Amelia (Maria Fabbri)
overhears the story. While Robeto meets his friend Godfrey (Bud
Spencer) to ask for help, Amelia schedules an encounter in the park
with someone to blackmail with the photos she had found in the
apartment; however Amelia is murdered in the park Meanwhile Nina's
cousin Dalia (Francine Racette) arrives to stay with Nina. But soon
Carlo Marosi appears eating at a restaurant and calling someone to meet
him. What has happened in the opera house?
"4 mosche di velluto grigio" is a flawed film with am intriguing title. The atmosphere is suffocating most of the time; the camera work uses unusual angles and positions; the cast has good performance. But the plot point with the identity of the killer is weak and quite senseless. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): "Quatro Moscas Sobre Veludo Cinza" ("Four Flies on Grey Velvet")
Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon), a rock guitarist married to a
beautiful and rich wife, is being followed by a peculiar man in dark
glasses. Roberto decides to confront the stranger, but unfortunately
for him he ends up killing him in an opera house with a masked
individual making photos of the whole debacle. After deciding to hide
the matter he starts receiving weird phone calls, letters and pictures
of the murder show up in his house during a party. Someone he knows is
trying to blackmail him, but unable to seek help from the police he
involves Godfred (Bud Spencer), a quirky fellow living life in solitude
and poverty on a diet of fish. He in turn has Roberto hire a gay
private investigator. All to find out the identity of the mysterious
As triumphant a movie as all his other three animal movies Dario Argento hit a home run with his artsy murder mysteries. And I must press that Argento really has made murder and death into art - I believe no one ever has made such telling and beautifully terrible death scenes as the master. Add to that the relatively good dialogues, acting plus some very odd humour (focused on a select bunch of weirdo characters populating this thriller) and this is movie that is a must see for any horror fans. Two killings are of extreme note - the first murder in the garden and than the final death scene.
Naturally as always not all is well with the Argento movie. Some of the acting is off and the plot/script has a lot of holes with much room for improvement. Also character building is almost non-existent as Argento typically for him focuses on the atmosphere (to great effect). The camera is as always stylish plus we have some great score from Enrio Morricone to really punctuate the whole feeling of the movie.
Excellent early thriller from Italian horror master Dario Argento was a
strong finish for his "Animal Trilogy" giallo films.
Musician accidentally kills a mysterious stalker, now someone is black mailing the poor guy, as well as murdering anyone who interferes with his deadly vendetta.
Four Flies on Grey Velvet was Argento's third and final entry in his fine trilogy of animal-themed giallo thrillers. Four Flies is one of the better films of the trilogy, second only to Argento's great debut film Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). Four Flies is classic Argento that flourishes with beautiful visual style and spooky vibes. It has an intriguing storyline with plenty of tight suspense sequences, bizarre atmosphere, and a rather dark sense of humor. The mystery element is kept quite high too and the plot remains compelling throughout. Ennio Morricone's lovely, haunting music score is also a welcomed addition.
The cast is also good. Star Michael Brandon makes for a likable and sympathetic hero. Mimsy Farmer is also a highlight as Brandon's fragile wife.
A unique film on all levels, Four Flies on Grey Velvet remains one of Argento's best pre-Deep Red (1975) films and it serves as a great omen to the stylish masterpieces that the director would follow with in the coming years.
*** 1/2 out of ****
I saw this on the big screen when it first was released in 1973 as a teen and later in 1992 at The Film Institute where it was shown with an unedited Susperia and Dario Argento himself was there to introduce both films and to discuss with the audience his craft after their showings. There must be something with this film since it was chosen for this unique seminar over all his other pre 1992 works. Upon the second viewing of this film, I still find it scary and spellbinding and the secret behind the title is quite chilling. Gives me the creeps just thinking about it. The stylish camerawork and storyline is pure Argento "black glove" period and this is my 3rd favorite film (tied with Deep Red) of his right behind #1 Susperia and #2 Tennebre. Why this film was never released on DVD or at least, after all these years, on VHS is a mystery in itself. I for one will be the first in line to purchase this if Anchor Bay or another reputable DVD distributor releases it.
"Four Flies on Grey Velvet" focuses on Roberto, a drummer in a rock
band who is grappling with feelings of guilt for his responsibility in
a man's death after he believed him to be stalking him. Following the
death of the stranger, he finds himself being blackmailed by an
unknown, hellbent assailant.
This was one of Argento's films that I had neglected to view for many years, and I was surprised when watching it how complex it was, especially given that it was such an early film of his. Somewhat like "Deep Red," "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" weaves an intricate, winding narrative that spreads out in varying directions before closing back in on itself for the final resolution. The narrative here is for the most part coherent, and there are enough through-lines to really engage the audience from beginning to end.
There are some phenomenal and legitimately frightening scenes involving the threatening killer, and the murder scenes are jarring and well handled. Unusual, borderline experimental uses of parallel editing and jump cuts give the narrative a dynamic flair, and atmospherically, every frame bleeds with Argento's unique aesthetic choices. The opening confrontation in the opera house is stunning, and several of the murder scenes are particularly memorable and understated; the film does seem to have some stilted elements to it, including characters and moments that really serve no purpose, but the upshot is that they lend Argento more time to wallow in stylistics. Solid performances from Michael Brandon and Mimsy Farmer really help bolster the proceedings, and Jean-Pierre Marielle is memorable as the flamboyant gay detective.
I've read some criticism of the film's conclusion, and while I do find it to be fairly easy in terms of expectancy, it is a clever twist, and the slow-motion finale is mildly remarkable.
Overall, "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" is an intriguing giallo with some great, understated murder scenes and a puzzle of a plot that engages the audience in ways which Argento would come to refine even more with "Deep Red." In charting Argento's career, the film is highly important, but even outside the context of his directorial trajectory, it stands as a solid, weirdly memorable effort with some rock'n'roll spirit and an extremely sinister doll mask. For most genre fans, I think that's more than enough. 8/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have been waiting a long time to view this film, after the first 2
parts in Argento's brilliant animal trilogy "Bird with the Crystal
Plumage" and "Cat O' Nine Tails" which were both excellent in their own
ways, and "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" has always been hard to find and
perhaps least remembered. Then when I finally got round to seeing it,
well I was pleasantly fulfilled, okay it's not as strong as the other 2
and may be a bit flawed, but still manages to shine with yet another
intriguing storyline and fascinating characters and plot twists.
The storyline here is we have a drummer in a rock band named Roberto Tobias whose straight away being stalked by a man and when he confronts him, he pulls out a knife and tries to attack him, but after the struggle the stalker gets stabbed. A mysterious masked stranger took photographs of the entire incident and later begins to taunt him and starts to murder people in his life.
Okay "Four Flies" may lack the elegance and style of the first part of the animal trilogy, but it still packs a punch, especially the masked stranger, with that freaky mask which is truly terrifying and you definitely feel a sense of dread whenever this person is around and the opening of this movie was a very interesting concept and then the growing paranoia of the lead character begins to grow and grow as he wonders what's gonna happen next is truly tense. Along with several stylish murder scenes such as the maid in the park as she's running towards the gate, was beautifully shot and terrifying, and the girl hiding in the cupboard kept me on the edge of my seat and the nerve racking outcome made me jump out of my skin. Even the final reveal was well executed and was a total shock, and the medical experiment which utilizes the four files was truly exciting, especially when it's played out in the end, and the shocking aftermath was a truly brilliant and thrilling experience and one that will be remembered forever.
The performances were solid in this one and even the supporting cast were memorable and great as well. Michael Brandon gave a good performance as the lead character and Mimsy Farmer also gave an interesting performance and gives a great screen presence, especially towards the end. Jean Pierre Marielle also gives a standout supporting performance as the private investigator and was truly hilarious and really makes you feel for his character.
All in all a good ending to the animal trilogy and okay may not be as strong as the other two, but still worth a watch with its good storyline, intriguing mystery and fantastic ending that neatly wraps everything up.
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